Happy International Domestic Workers’ (IDW) Day to all the 370,000 Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) for being the backbone of our society and the key support for many households in Hong Kong (HK)! 

Many working parents in HK, especially mothers, have been able to accomplish so much and achieve better work-life balance, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of their MDWs’ support in caring for their children and elderly parents. 

How can Employers better support MDWs to achieve work-life balance too? We’ve spoken with a number of MDWs and they have shared with us the many things they are grateful to their employers for, as well as practical things employers can do to help make their life as an employee and a working mother a bit better. 

Here are the 10 things employers can do to make their MDW life a bit better.

1. Let your Migrant Domestic Worker have a full day off

Many MDWs express gratitude to their employers for letting them have a full day off. 

Under the Standard Employment Contract (SEC), all employers are required to give their MDW at least one continuous 24-hour day off once a week. 

In fact, studies show that we are more productive and will focus better when we take time out from work. Finding time to unwind also helps us feel more motivated and enjoy our work more. 

So giving our MDWs  a full day off without asking her to do any work on her rest day will go a long way! Not only do we demonstrate we care about her and her wellbeing – our families will benefit too when she is rejuvenated.

2. Greet or respond to greetings! Say “Hello” back or “Good morning”

How do we greet our MDWs? We’ve heard some MDWs shared that they wished their employers would respond when they said “Good morning”, “hello” and “Good night”. 

Some of us may not be ‘morning people’ or we are tired after a long day of work. We may also think that since we see each other everyday there’s no need for pleasantries. 

Wishing someone “Good morning” or saying “Hello” actually helps to start off the day on a positive note. When we maintain a friendly attitude, it makes the environment a lot more pleasant and helps foster better relationships too.

3. Plan ahead by creating daily and weekly routines

Inform your MDWs about her responsibilities and your expected results. If she needs help prioritising, build her a schedule and create a routine together. Remember to include breaks in between!

A number of MDW have expressed gratitude to their Employers for letting them know about their tasks ahead of time. This helps them organise their day and reduce unnecessary stress that arise from frequent, impromptu tasks. 

This benefits employers too in the long run too. The greater clarity can minimise miscommunication and conflicts, which will in turn cultivate a more positive employer-employee relationship.

4. Develop good communication habits and solve problems professionally

Employers who invest time and energy to communicate clearly and positively with their employees encourage trust, consequently boosting productivity and morale.

Discuss any problems with your MDW in a civil manner. Develop a healthy amount of patience – especially if your MDW is new to Hong Kong. Your practice and habits may sometimes not make complete sense to her – just as hers may not to you at times. 

Many employers feel the pressure to “treat MDWs like their own family”. This may be confusing for both employers and MDWs, as fundamentally it is an employer-employee relationship. Contrary to popular belief, most MDWs prefer clear boundaries, and they appreciate their employers for being more professional! 

Clear and professional boundaries are healthy, and encourage more open communication and effective conflict resolution too. 

5. Give praise when it’s due – trust your Migrant Domestic Worker to manage her time and duties well

Many employers in Hong Kong work long hours and lead very busy lives. Some struggle to maintain work-life balance and may carry work-related stress home. 

Some Migrant Domestic Workers (MDW) feel their Employers’ workplace frustration is taken out on them. Employers who face a lot of stress and unhappiness at work may inadvertently pick at and micro-manage their MDW. This can be demoralising for a MDW, especially if it makes them feel they are not managing their time and duties well. 

Research shows maintaining a grateful attitude can improve our mood, leaving us feeling calmer and more relaxed. Every day find one thing you are grateful to your MDW for and focus on her strengths. For example, she may not be on top of the cleaning, but she is dedicated to caring for your children. 

Trust your MDW is doing her best and show your gratitude by praising for a job well done.

Check out Mind HK’s tips to improve our work-life balance and take care of our mental health.

6. Her health matters – provide her nutritious food or sufficient food allowance

Some MDWs have told us they don’t have enough food or nutritious food to give them energy while doing their work. According to Helpwise which provides consultancy service to employers of MDWs, food frustrations is one of the 3 key reasons why MDWs leave their jobs.

Check with your MDW if her meal portions are sufficient, and if your family’s staples are something she is used to – particularly if she is new to Hong Kong. A lot of MDWs may not be used to speaking up about their needs or are worried about offending their employers, so it helps for employers to lead the conversation.

Ask your MDW about any dietary restrictions she may have as well. If she follows a pork-free diet or suffers from severe food allergies, allow her to cook her own meals to fit those requirements.

7. Let your Migrant Domestic Worker take breaks throughout the day to recover

Studies show taking a break is important for productivity. Inadequate rest has been identified by Helpwise as one of the main reasons why MDWs want to end their work contracts.

A lot of MDWs are grateful for breaks as it allows them to recharge. Let your MDWs take breaks throughout the day to call her family, practice her religion and take some rest. Plan a schedule together with breaks in between certain tasks, but allow some flexibility. 

Just as family is important for us, it is important for our MDWs too. It is common for many families in the provinces of Indonesia and the Philippines to have early bedtimes. So for many MDWs who may want to call their children and family members in their home country, they could be asleep by the time they finish their working day. 

8. Respect her privacy, especially during her days off

How does it feel to have our employer or customer constantly checking on what we’re doing and how we spend our time on our day off?  Or to look through your belongings without consent? Most of us would probably be outraged. That’s how many MDWs feel too.

Respect our MDWs’ privacy by letting them have their personal space and allow them to enjoy their day off without being monitored, as this can affect her morale and make her feel undervalued.

If you do have concerns, for example about your MDW being in crowded places during the height of COVID-19, it’s best to have an open, respectful conversation to share those concerns. More often than not, your MDW would be thankful for your openness and willingness to have a discussion!

9. Teach children good habits, like respecting all Migrant Domestic Workers

Lead by example! Take pride in teaching your children how to value and appreciate MDWs. Role model the behaviour you want to see in your own communications and interactions.

Speak with your children about the importance of treating MDWs with respect and dignity, as they should with a family member or elder, even when you’re not around.

Teachable moments like this is a powerful way to build character in your children.

10. Provide opportunities for your Migrant Domestic Worker to pursue her passions

Ask your MDW about her long-term goals and encourage her to plan for the future. Ask her if there’s anything you can do to support her – whether it’s funding for lessons, giving her time off to study or lending her a computer to do some online courses.

In Annie’s (not her real name) case, her employer gave her time to study at HKU Space and Chinese University Language Centre while working as a MDW. Today, Annie is based in Indonesia and self-employed as a language teacher.

We hope that these insights will encourage open communication and deeper understanding between employers and MDWs, which are important success factors to a stronger, healthier employer-employee relationship! It has long-lasting benefits for our families and our MDWs’ families too when we take steps to improve our relationship.